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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
The image of a beautiful coast tarnished by 'pirates'

by Yusuf M. Hassan

EYL, Somalia Sep 2 (Garowe Online) - The sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean coastline seem ideal for tourism, but the coastal village of Eyl in northeastern Somalia has garnered a reputation for martime piracy in recent years. Locals say that reputation is wrong and unrepresentative of the townspeople, the vast majority of whom openly oppose piracy but have little power to stop it.

Abdirahman Ali Ahmed, the local government secretary in Eyl, told us during a recent roadtrip to the historic town that the Puntland regional government has "no ability" to face-off against the heavily-armed pirates.

Somali 'pirates'
"Puntland's deputy police commander [Mr. Mohamed Haji Aden] came [to Eyl]...he arrested some pirates, wounded others," Mr. Ahmed said, but indicated that security effort ultimately ended in failure because there was no "follow-up action."

He condemned foreign shipping companies, who have reportedly paid millions of U.S. dollars in ransom since the beginning of 2008 to Somali pirates. In return, the pirates were only emboldened and their ranks grew, attracting freelance militiamen from "every corner of Somalia," according to Mr. Ahmed.

In Eyl, local townspeople rarely, if ever, carry weapons in public. But the pirates - young men strolling in groups of three or four - brandish AK-47 assault rifles, although there is no police presence to challenge them.

In one incident, our group of journalists - myself, Mr. Mohamed "Salim" Dahir, who is director of Radio Garowe, and Mr. Nuh Muse Birjeb, the VOA Somali Service's Garowe correspondent - were mistakenly identified as pirates by a group of children, who began chanting: " Burcad-badeed dooni meyno!" (We don't want pirates!)

Abdishakur Gorgor, the only independent journalist based in Eyl and regularly sourced by major news organizations like the VOA and the BBC, told us that we were the first group of reporters to visit the remote, mountainous town since 2003. "The locals are eager for journalists to show the real image of Eyl, which does not include pirates," he added.

Many of Eyl's townspeople agree with this assertion. The lady-owner at a restaurant we ate at said: "The children here think every new face is a pirate. This is what Eyl has become."

But there is much more to Eyl than piracy. This rocky terrain that once served as the headquarters of 20th century Somali freedom fighter Sayyid Mohamed Abdulle Hassan, wrongly labeled the "Mad Mullah" by Western historians, is home to families who have lived and tilled this land for centuries.

The Sayyid's tower, known locally as Daarta Sayyidka, stands tall but is in much need of renovation to preserve the proud and gallant struggle he led to liberate the Somali Peninsula from the talons of European colonizers and their Ethiopian stooges.

And for me, my family history is deeply rooted here, where both my grandfathers were born and grew up among the gardens of Eyl, which remain an uncommon feature in much of semi-arid Puntland.

Social challenges

While the world focuses on piracy, locals here are concerned about important issues such as their children's education and health.

Dr. Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the director of Eyl's only hospital and the town's only medical doctor, says there are serious health issues in Eyl but that local medical staff lack the capacity to deal with such issues.

"The hospital cannot deal with major health challenges," Dr. Ahmed said, adding: "There are major problems, in terms of access to medicines and employees salary. We do not receive any assistance, except from the Red Cross."

Somalis in the Diaspora helped build a Delivery Room, but the local hospital is waiting for proper equipment before services can begin.

He says the Puntland regional government, especially the Ministry of Health, has no presence in Eyl and therefore townspeople are forced to help themselves.

Recently, during a watery diarrhea outbreak that killed 30 people since March, locals collected 40 million Somali Shillings (approx. US$1,150) to deal with the growing health problem.

Jama Salad Abdulle, the town's caretaker director of social affairs, told us that a total of seven schools are "near closing," due to lack of funds.

"There are 1,220 students attending six primary schools and 40 students in the town's only secondary school," Mr. Abdulle said, while expressing concern that the schools might shut down because local families cannot afford to pay for school services.

He stated that local schools "do not receive any assistance" from the Puntland regional administration.

Piracy along Somalia's shores is partly due to the international community's negligence of growing disorder in the Horn of Africa country, which is undergoing nearly 18 years of civil war and foreign occupation.

The world's ability to help stabilize Somalia will result in the gradual decrease of piracy. But continued negligence of the political chaos in Mogadishu and elsewhere will only embolden piracy, if not create new criminal challenges that present renewed threats to the globe's security and economic interests.

Source: Garowe Online

A hijacked ship in the background/GO

Eyl hospital/GO

Abdirahman Ali Ahmed speaking at Eyl Mayor's office/GO

Eyl scenery/GO

Eyl scenery/GO

Rocky terrain in Eyl/GO

Beautiful Indian Ocean coast in Eyl/GO

Historic tower of Somali freedom fighter/GO

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